Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

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Amani has crossed the desert with her foreign prince and joined forces with his brother Ahmed, the Rebel Prince. The Rebellion has taken half the desert with the help of the Blue-Eyed Bandit. When a mission to take back a rogue city in the Rebellion’s and a rescue from the capital go sideways, the Mirajin Army find the rebel camp in the oasis and ambush. Amani, hours after reuniting with Jin, is taken to the Mirajin capital of Izman, where the Sultan is paying top dollar for any Demdji.

Have you ever read a sequel that’s as good as the original or even better? Traitor to the Throne is. The plotting done so well. There are plots and sub-plots, intertwining brilliantly to create a fully fleshed story. Faces Amani knew in her old life come back to haunt her; those who were once her friends, help the Sultan keep her down. And someone she never trusted turns into her greatest ally. Once captured, Amani makes herself useful to the Sultan, giving him reason to give her a little more freedom and a little more trust.

Hamilton doesn’t really bother with filler. If a part of the story doesn’t serve a purpose or if we need catching up, we get it in her gorgeous prose, told as a story within a story. And I absolutely love reading the stories. The Mirajin mythologies and legends are all so beautiful and so sad. The last book was heavy on the legend of the Atiyah and Sakhr. This time we keep hearing the love story of Princess Hawa and Atillah. As per usual, the stories are based in truth, and provide valuable lessons that are important to the real events of the book.

I’m a sap. I love reading about love, and this book has a lot of mushy love stories in it. Amani and Jin, Imin and Navid, Madhi and Sayyida. It’s all so swoon-insipiring and sad. The actions of so many of these characters, and the events that occur as a result of them, are done in the name of the person they love. Jin’s a runner; we knew that back in Dustwalk. I just don’t think Amani thought he’d ever run on her. The time they spend apart in this novel only increases the impact when they’re together again.

I still don’t like Ahmed. Is he charismatic and inspiring? Yes, definitely. Would he make a benevolent ruler? Probably. He obviously means well. But, like Amani, I have doubts about his ability to hold a country against the foreigners fighting over Mirajin deserts. He’s having trouble holding half the desert with his forces, and I’m not sure he can do what needs to be done even with the full Mirajin army at his back.

5/5. Would recommend.

 

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King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

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Mare is being held prisoner by King Maven. She lives out her life trapped in the Palace, lightning suppressed by Silent Stone, and tortured by the whispers Merandus family. The Scarlet Guard is growing, expanding their operations. Once they were confined to the Lakelnds, now everyone in Norta know their name and they’re spreading to the kingdom of Piedmont. Cal, the exiled prince and one of the Guard’s strongest strategists, will stop at nothing to get Mare back. But once he’s got her, will his allegiances remain with the Scarlet Guard?

Is the writing style any better than the first two books? Not really. Is the world-building any more developed? Eh. Am I any more attached to these characters than I was in the first book? Heavens no. So why did I like this book any better than the first two?

I think the answer to that question can be summed up in one word: Maven. Let’s make one thing very clear: I couldn’t care less about this love triangle. I am so unattached to these characters, it hurts. Reading about their love life is so dull. But I did enjoy the insight into the mad king’s mind.

Maven is a lost little boy without Elara. She stripped him of anything that made him real. She took his fears and desires and emotions, and she filled his mind with what she thought would make him powerful. Elara loved her son, I know that. She did what she thought was best for him and for her family’s image of power. The Silvers decided a long time ago that love was weakness. So the queen took that from Maven. She turned him into this empty, plastic little boy filled with blackness and hate. And if there’s one thing Aveyard has shown she can write in a book, it’s plastic characters.

I liked the politics. I enjoyed watching the Silver High Houses continue to fight amonst themselves and alter their allegiances. It took Mare far too long to realize the war with Lakeland was less about resources than it was about oppressing Reds. Remember 1984? A constant war is the perfect distraction to tyranny and oppression; the people hate the enemy more than their own country. But Maven ending that fake war was genius. The people celebrate peacetime and the king that brought it to them. It was a great way for him to garner support where before he had none. In a way, what was probably meant to be filler was one of the most interesting parts of the novel.

Cal actually shows some kind of emotion besides rage in this one, so that’s something. We get to see him being the excellent strategist we’ve been hearing about. Cal finds himself shirtless more than once in this book, which was fun. He finally made a choice this time around. And he chose what everyone knew he would in the long run, even if so many Red Queen fans are disappointed by it. Does he love Mare? Sure. Does that mean anything to a Silver? No.

I still can’t stand Mare. She continues to be as self-deprecating as ever. That’s all I really have to say on the matter.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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Amani was raised in backwater Dustwalk, where you learned to shoot before you learned to walk, and she’s dreamt of leaving since her mother died. Amani plans to run away to Izman, the capital of the dessert nation Miraji. There, she can be her own person, not owned by her uncle or some husband she doesn’t want to be with. But first, she has to be able to pay her way there.

Which explains how Amani ended up in Deadshot, the crappy town next to Dustwalk. Specifically how she ended up meeting a handsome foreigner as they try to escape a riot at the pistol pit. It doesn’t explain why he runs into her shop with a bullet wound the day after being chased by the Sultan’s Army. Or why she rides off into the dessert with him on the back of an immortal horse.

I loved this book. It was exciting in so many different ways. I loved the characters and the mythology and the stories. My favorite part was Shihabian in the oasis. It hit me that Amani was celebrating the same holy day under the same sky, but now she was celebrating surrounded by people who had come to care for her, and with more food and drink than she’d probably ever been able to eat in her life. It was a brilliant testament to how much Amani’s life had changed. If I had one complaint, it was the pacing. Some scenes (especially action scenes) felt like they just dragged on and on forever.

This book was heavy on the romance. It was refreshing not to have to deal with the characters playing coy with each other. Amani and Jin started flirting the moment they met in the pistol pit. She made him laugh and he saved her from the rioters in the pit. He pulled her from her dead-end hometown and she saved him from the Sultan’s Army. There was never a moment where I didn’t think they would fall in love with each other.

I was not surprised that Amani was a Demdji. Jin had been hiding something the whole time, though I was admittedly convinced it was something deeply painful meant to turn him into a brooding stranger trope. But Amani was obviously special. Her strangely bright eyes were mentioned far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and her sharp-shooting ability was impressive, to say the least. She couldn’t be a First Being or a Djinn, because she’d have noticed. Too much magic in her and too much iron in her world for a First Being to go unnoticed. Being half-djinni makes sense once somebody mentioned that it was even possible. Iron weakened her enough that her abilities never surfaced, but it never hurt her, which was important considering how many times she held a gun growing up. But if I don’t see some repercussions to the fact that her gun, which has really been the most trustworthy thing in her life, is what was preventing her from developing her abilities as a Demdji and she won’t be able to shoot anymore, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.

Shazad is a secondary character worth discussing. She is no Mary Sue character. She doesn’t just think she’s great. She is phenomenal, even more so because she is not Demdji, and she uses her remarkable ability and strength to fight for a cause she believes in. She’s one of Ahmed’s best assets and I doubt the Rebellion would be anywhere close to where it was without her. I find her to be amazingly inspiring.

 

I’m surprised that I liked this book as much as I did, because I’m really not enjoying this Western trend at all. I am not big on the whole horse, saloon, gunslinger scene. I am, however, loving this shift toward the Middle East. The dessert sets a harsh and beautiful backdrop for any travels characters make. I aslo really love the look at Middle-Eastern mythos and culture. The Middle-Eastern fantasy mixed with civil disobedience and rebellion just vibes well with me right now.